More on the US not being in a recession

Snippet from Paul Krugman on recessions:

So, GDP was up slightly in the first quarter. Does that mean that we’re not in a recession? The correct answer is, who cares?

The NBER Business Cycle Dating Committee defines a recession as

a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales.

Broadly speaking, that means that the economy is only considered to be in a recession when everything is going down. Historically, that hasn’t been a problem, since most recessions have been “V-shaped”: everything plunges, and then everything springs back, so there isn’t much ambiguity about whether the economy is worsening or not.

But since the mid-1980s we have been having “U-shaped” recessions in which the upturn is slow and weak. As a result, things that matter to a lot of people — like the unemployment rate, shown above — keep getting worse long after the official recession period, indicated by the shaded areas. Officially, the recession of 1990-91 was long over by the 1992 election, but people were still very worried about the economy, stupid. The 2001 recession officially ended in November of that year, but the job situation kept getting worse until the middle of 2003.

The point is that the official definition of recession has become delinked from peoples’ actual experience. Right now, we’re in an economy with deteriorating employment and incomes, collapsing home prices, and business retrenchment. Is it also an economy in recession? Who cares?

Interesting chart from the WSJ on inflation measurement.

Also, a post from The Big Picture on how this will impact GDP growth in the current quarter:

At 8:30am, we get the advance GDP data from BEA. Consensus is for a marginally positive data point -- 0.3%. This will follow Q7 2007 of 0.6%.

In terms of debunking the misleading data stats, today is the day where the rubber meets the road. Why? Well, if the official inflation data was reported in a way that was more reflective of reality, Q4 last year would likely have been anywhere from 0.75% to 1.5% lower (if not more), sending it into negative territory.

The same will be true for today's GD data point, with the probable overstatement enough to keep it marginally positive or flat.

Why does inflation matter so much to GDP? Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the "broadest measure of aggregate economic activity and encompasses every sector of the economy." If you want to know understand how weak or strong an economy is, GDP is where you begin. But, you need to determine how much of GDP is nominal, and how much is real (i.e., after inflation growth).

Consider an economy that sold $100 worth of goods and services in one quarter. The next Q, it produced $110 worth. When determining the GDP of this economy, you want to know how much of those gains was additional output, and how much merely price increases. Its usually a combination of more widgets and higher prices, so if you want to know exactly how much the economy expanded, you need to know exactly how much inflation there was. Understate inflation, and you overstate growth.

If today's GDP is marginally positive, following Q4's marginally positive GDP data, then we officially will not be in a recession by the classic "2 consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth." This means that if the correct inflation deflator was built into GDP, we would have our two consec quarters.

Hence, for the reality based community, the recession will be officially here.

Of course, if you believe that actual inflation is running about 2.5%, then you should feel free to ignore this analysis.

I only watched half of American Idol last night, but I'm still predicting that the blonde goes home.
Nothing against her, but it just seems like the time's come for it to happen.

As Brad DeLong puts it...

"Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?"

That's how Brad DeLong ends a significant number of his posts. But it's true. To a large extent, I feel like the press corps is gradually succumbing to a strategy of appealing to the lowest common denominator. In the US, that LCD is very, very low and perhaps getting lower by the day. To a large degree, it's why I've totally given up on primary coverage. It's also why some of Obama's rhetoric resonates with me. But I digress.

I may have given up on primary coverage, but I haven't given up on the meta-coverage. To that effect, I was heartened by the recent Op-Ed from Elizabeth Edwards in the NYTimes. Here are some selected passages:

FOR the last month, news media attention was focused on Pennsylvania and its Democratic primary. Given the gargantuan effort, what did we learn?

Well, the rancor of the campaign was covered. The amount of money spent was covered. But in Pennsylvania, as in the rest of the country this political season, the information about the candidates’ priorities, policies and principles — information that voters will need to choose the next president — too often did not make the cut.


The problem today unfortunately is that voters who take their responsibility to be informed seriously enough to search out information about the candidates are finding it harder and harder to do so, particularly if they do not have access to the Internet.

Did you, for example, ever know a single fact about Joe Biden’s health care plan? Anything at all? But let me guess, you know Barack Obama’s bowling score. We are choosing a president, the next leader of the free world. We are not buying soap, and we are not choosing a court clerk with primarily administrative duties.

What’s more, the news media cut candidates like Joe Biden out of the process even before they got started. Just to be clear: I’m not talking about my husband. I’m referring to other worthy Democratic contenders. Few people even had the chance to find out about Joe Biden’s health care plan before he was literally forced from the race by the news blackout that depressed his poll numbers, which in turn depressed his fund-raising.

And it’s not as if people didn’t want this information. In focus groups that I attended or followed after debates, Joe Biden would regularly be the object of praise and interest: “I want to know more about Senator Biden,” participants would say.


Who is responsible for the veil of silence over Senator Biden? Or Senator Dodd? Or Gov. Tom Vilsack? Or Senator Sam Brownback on the Republican side?

The decision was probably made by the same people who decided that Fred Thompson was a serious candidate. Articles purporting to be news spent thousands upon thousands of words contemplating whether he would enter the race, to the point that before he even entered, he was running second in the national polls for the Republican nomination. Second place! And he had not done or said anything that would allow anyone to conclude he was a serious candidate. A major weekly news magazine put Mr. Thompson on its cover, asking — honestly! — whether the absence of a serious campaign and commitment to raising money or getting his policies out was itself a strategy.


A report by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy found that during the early months of the 2008 presidential campaign, 63 percent of the campaign stories focused on political strategy while only 15 percent discussed the candidates’ ideas and proposals.
Amen to Elizabeth Edwards. If only more opinion articles were dedicated to topics such as these, rather than the meaning and context of misspoken words, than I'd be a much happier consumer of MSM reporting.

New find

I totally stole this link from Sheena's blog, but it's awesome. It's a tumblog called Garfield minus Garfield, and it's pretty brilliant. Here's the tagline.

Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life? Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness in a quiet American suburb.
Here are some pictures:

The following television shows make me want to put a hole in my head.

* Grey's Anatomy
* The Hills
* The Real World
* Desperate Housewives
* Etc.

There are some common threads running through these shows. The first and most obvious is that these shows focus on women. I don't think that this is the reason I hate them, but it's probably related.

The second and more relevant is that their stories focus excessively on the details of romantic relationships. With the fictional shows, these romantic relationships frequently become highly incestuous, with the end result being that everybody will, at some point, sleep with everybody else.

The third is that the characters in these shows tend to be extremely self-absorbed, to the point of total absurdity. The reality shows, in particular, tend to latch onto the more ridiculous ones and air as many minutes of their absurd behavior as possible. Even though not all of the people/characters are ridiculous, the fact that I would try to avoid most of these people in real life speaks volumes to me.

I happen to be sitting through a marathon session of these shows right now. I'm praying that the pain will be over soon.

Wine tasting

For a while, there's been a long-standing debate within my family, started by my father. The question at the core of the debate is whether wine is priced higher because it is considered to be good, or if wine is considered to be good because it is priced higher. His contention is very much the latter, with my cousin, my mom and my girlfriend mostly favoring the former.

To be fair, there's a bit of definitional looseness around the concept of "good" in this case. My dad's position implicitly assumes that the quality of wine is entirely defined by its phenomenal characteristics, e.g. taste, smell, etc. This, combined with his contention about wine pricing, would thus imply that people that enjoy expensive wines are simply suckers with airs of pretention. However, it's entirely possible that some people also find value in the signaling that comes with the consumption of expensive goods, in which case, a bottle couldn't really be good unless it was expensive and people knew it. That being said, no one in our family really thinks about the debate this way. For the sake of our arguments, if a wine is good, it's good, regardless of the price or label.

The results from a recent study from Wine Economics lends some new evidence to this debate. This from the introduction:

In this paper, we use a large sample of more than 6,000 US blind tastings, compiled by food and wine critic Robin Goldstein. Blind tastings offer the opportunity to isolate the experience of the wine itself from psychological confounds related to its price, presentation or published expert ratings.

We investigate the relationship between price and subjective appreciation of wines, when the price is unknown to the tasters. Subjective appreciation is measured by overall ratings assigned to wines by individual participants.

Our main finding is that, on average, individuals who are unaware of the price do not derive more enjoyment from more expensive wine. In fact, they enjoy more expensive wines slightly less.
The paper is short, but it has a lot of interesting results in it. For one, the study finds that so-called wine experts, i.e. those with training of some sort, do tend to like more expensive wines. One study reference that I thought was interesting was the following:
There is, however, some research expressing skepticism towards wine ratings and their use for the average wine drinker. According to Quandt (2007), many wine ratings do not actually convey any information, nor is there substantial agreement in ratings by experts. Consistent with this view, Weil (2007) investigates whether wine descriptions of experts actually convey any information to wine consumers. This is tested by having testers match wine descriptions to wines. In a similar setup to Weil (2001, 2005), tasters are asked to distinguish the odd one out of three different glasses of wine. Only about 50% of the participants can distinguish the odd one out, and of those that manage to do it, only about half can correctly match a wine critic’s description of the wine with the wine itself - which is no better than a random guess.

Random comment: WSJ on upcoming summer movies

I'm not sure why I find this amusing. Actually, I do. It's because I think it's stupid. From the WSJ:

The summer of 2008 will feature an unusually deep bench of comic-book characters, including "Iron Man," "Hellboy II," "The Incredible Hulk" and the return of Batman in "The Dark Knight." The season also has heroic figures aimed at baby boomers ("Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"); outsiders (Will Smith as a down-and-out guy infused with super powers in "Hancock"); conspiracy theorists (a new "X-Files" movie); and fantasy lovers ("The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian"). And moviegoers looking for heroines without special powers (but with outfits as stylish as those of any superhero) can check out the movie version of "Sex and the City."


"Sex and the City" from Time Warner Inc.'s New Line unit, also hopes to tap into the heroic spirit of the summer. "These women are the ultimate female superheroes," says Michael Patrick King, who executive produced the HBO hit from which the movie sprang. " 'Sex and The City' was made to correct the myth that if you were single at a certain age, you were a leper. Its four characters are heroes to a lot of women; they run around New York, or Gotham -- but they have fancy shoes instead of capes."

I get what they're saying, but this is a stretch of pretty farcical proportions. If they had phrased it in any other way, e.g. females are also being given self-empowering fantasy schlock, then I wouldn't have given this passage a second thought. But trying to shoehorn characters that are almost exclusively concerned with sex and fashion (i.e. themselves) as heroes? Give me a break.

P.S. I happily admit to not being a fan of Sex and the City, and have only watched a bare handful of shows. If some avid fan happens to have evidence that disputes my view, I'm more than happy to be corrected.

Shake-up at the WSJ

This may be one of the clearest signals that I'm becoming an old man - I actually care about the fate of the Wall Street Journal. Now, that's mainly because my job is pretty much dependent on understanding what's going on in the financial markets and the WSJ is far and away one of the best sources of news in that area. Even so, I've come to harbor a deep respect for the quality and style of the WSJ's reporting, to the point where I now read it daily on my morning train ride.

In the last day or two, it's become clear that Murdoch's assurances about News Corp. keeping its hands off of the WSJ were a load of bullshit. There have been some minor changes, as reported by both the WSJ and the NYT. This from the latter:

Mr. Murdoch has said publicly that he wants to make The Journal more of a general-interest newspaper, to compete more directly with The New York Times, though he insists he will not diminish its coverage of business.

To that end, The Journal has increased its coverage of other areas, notably politics, and the bulk of its first section is being devoted to general-interest news. The front page has fewer business articles and fewer of the long, offbeat features that were a signature of the paper.

This is troubling in and of itself. While I doubt that Murdoch is going to do to the WSJ what he did to the New York Post (i.e. turn it into a big freaking joke), he's clearly trying to use the WSJ as a platform for his conservative agenda. While I'm not entirely averse to the idea of having an ideological counterpoint to the NYTimes, I am averse to the fashioning of that counterpoint being executed by the man that is responsible for Fox News, which is now infamous for its willingness to ride blithely over a little detail called journalistic integrity, or more plainly put, factual accuracy. If Murdoch poisons that particular well, then he can kiss my subscription goodbye.

The biggest change to date has been the "resignation" of managing editor Marcus Brauchli. However, an article from highlights the exact nature of that resignation.

Constructive termination, or constructive discharge, is a legal concept meaning a change in an employee's working conditions of the sort that would cause any reasonable person to quit. It's been widely reported, including by me, that News Corp. did indeed engineer a "material change" in Brauchli's "duties or responsibilities." Once Robert Thomson was appointed as publisher, Brauchli ceased to be the top editorial voice at the paper, and was left out of major decisions, including the development of a culture section and the launch of a new overseas edition. Pre-Murdoch, such decisions would clearly have been part of his purview. In other words, Brauchli was demoted.

Then, to top it all off, Thomson and new Dow Jones CEO Les Hinton actually told Brauchli, earlier this month, that they'd prefer a managing editor of their own choosing.

Add it all up, and News Corp.'s claim that Brauchli "resigned" starts to look pretty vulnerable, legally speaking.

So far, it sounds as if Murdoch has no compunctions about bending the contractual obligations of the deal to have his way with the paper.

Dealing with Macs

So, I typed out the last two posts on Pudge's Macbook Air, which she bought because HBS requires her to have a 'high-powered' laptop. I will be the first to admit that the Air is a sexy, sexy beast. The keyboard, form factor, etc. is all great. However, switching from a PC to a Mac is proving to be a much larger pain in the ass then expected.

The biggest problem is that I'm a huge user of keyboard shortcuts and it's taking me a ridiculous amount of time to get used to the differences. Here's what's tripping me up.

* Lack of dedicated page up/page down buttons. Apparently, this is solely Air related.
* I have no idea how to page through tabs in Firefox
* I have no idea how to rapidly switch back and forth between windows
* Ctrl functions seem to be split across the option and command buttons
* I have no idea how to replicate Alt like functions

I'm picking things up through a slow, slow process of trial and error. I realize that I could probably go look it up online, but I figure this isn't my machine and I don't really want to get too used to it.

I just want to preface the next two posts by saying that most of my views are informed by a quick canvassing of the literature. What I'm saying is that my views are by no means settled. However, if I had to put something down on paper, I'd say that I certainly wouldn't count out the possibility.

This from today's WSJ:

To tap Khurais, Saudi Arabian Oil Co., known as Aramco, has embarked on the most complex earth- and water-moving project in its history. It is spending up to $15 billion on a vast network of pipes, oil-treatment facilities, deep horizontal wells and water-injection systems that it calls "one of the largest industrial projects being executed in the world today."

Moreover, with the project, Aramco is dipping into one of its last big basins of oil. After Khurais, Saudi Arabia will have only one known mega-field left to fully develop, the even more challenging Manifa field, offshore in the Persian Gulf. Much of the kingdom's reserves beyond these lie either in aging fields or smaller pockets.

"Khurais and Manifa are the last two giants in Saudi Arabia," says Sadad al-Husseini, a former Aramco vice president for oil exploration. "Sure, we will discover dozens of other smaller fields, but after these, we are chasing after smaller and smaller fish." [That doesn't sound good]


But Saudi Arabia is under pressure to ramp up its output as the world scrambles to keep pace with rising oil demand, which the International Energy Agency predicts could hit 99 million barrels a day by 2015, up from 87 million barrels a day this year [Ok, so demand is going... up]. With output declining or flat in Mexico, Venezuela, the North Sea and Russia, all eyes are on the Saudis to fill much of the gap, even as oil demand soars within Saudi Arabia itself. [And production is going... ?]

The graphic above is of Saudi's oil fields and it seems to give a pretty good indication of the relative sizes of the remaining oil fields.

Now, I haven't seen enough info out there to indicate that production has peaked, per se, but the tone of these articles definitely isn't instilling a great deal of confidence.

Energy concerns

Despite a sort of passing interest, I haven't really followed the energy markets all that much. I'm basically aware of the fact that oil keeps going up and is currently touching rates unseen since the '70s, and that's about it.

An e-mail from Arthur and a few articles have started juicing up my interest. The current meme that's interesting me is whether or not we're looking at a "peak oil" situation. That, according to wikipedia, would be:

Peak oil is the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum production is reached, after which the rate of production enters its terminal decline. If global consumption is not mitigated before the peak, an energy crisis may develop because the availability of conventional oil will drop and prices will rise, perhaps dramatically.
There are two questions that are up in the air at the moment. The first is if we are actually reaching peak oil. The second is if that's actually a problem, or if it's more of a Malthusian issue that can be dismissed due to mankind's ability to innovate its way out of resource constraints.

To keep the length of this post down, I'll address my thoughts on those two questions in separate posts.

Updated predictions:

* Either Jason Castro or Brooke White is going home tomorrow. Probably Brooke, since she hasn't had a good performance since the last time I wrote about American Idol.
* I'm still pegging David Cook to win it all. The other contestants don't really matter that much

Just relaying a message

I'm still not following the primary (although I seem to be hearing a lot about the words "bitter" and "cling" of late), but that hasn't stopped other people from sending me bits and pieces. One of the key things that's drawn me to Obama has been his willingness to cut the crap and talk straight, much like you might see American presidents doing in movies such as "The American President." What follows is an example of exactly that, taken from last night's debate. Hat tip to my friend Arthur:

[Question about his relation to William Ayers of the Weather Underground]

SEN. OBAMA: George, but this is an example of what I'm talking about.

This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English in Chicago, who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from. He's not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis.

And the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values, doesn't make much sense, George.

The fact is, is that I'm also friendly with Tom Coburn, one of the most conservative Republicans in the United States Senate, who during his campaign once said that it might be appropriate to apply the death penalty to those who carried out abortions.

Do I need to apologize for Mr. Coburn's statements? Because I certainly don't agree with those either.

So this kind of game, in which anybody who I know, regardless of how flimsy the relationship is, is somehow -- somehow their ideas could be attributed to me -- I think the American people are smarter than that. They're not going to suggest somehow that that is reflective of my views, because it obviously isn't.

This is exactly the kind of thing that I wish would happen more often in our country's political discourse. Of course, I wish that it would consequently be followed by embarassed apologies from the people that wallow in this kind of sludge on a day-to-day basis. Unfortunately, that never seems to happen.


Just came across an arstechnica article about Novint, which apparently produces fancy hardware peripherals for gaming consoles. I still have no idea what they do, other than it involves the word, "haptics," so it's something about touch. What I found intriguing was the way that they approached a particular problem in the peripheral industry, which was articulated as:

New peripherals always have an uphill battle in the market; those on both the PC and the gaming consoles that have managed to take off always have strong games attached. Dance mats are inseparable from Dance Dance Revolution, the guitars and drums for Rock Band had one of the most hyped rhythm games and a proven track record to bank on, while expensive flight sticks bring the promise of a more realistic experience with a variety of different flight simulations. So what do you do when your main product is a $190+ haptic device? The first step is getting people to try it, and the second step is making enough great games available for it to get people to bite. The best peripheral is worthless without a solid software library.
So, the problem is that their hardware product is nothing without good software to back it up. Here's what Novint is doing about it. Italics added.
"Typically what we do is we license from a publisher or developer the rights to a game, and we license it in a field of use, meaning we can only use it in a specific area," Anderson explained. "The area we work out with them is the 3D Touch field of use. So when we see we have the tough right, we saying we're licensing the 3D Touch field of use. What that means is we're licensing the ability to use touch in an existing game."

This is why Novint may become one of the most powerful players in the field of gaming haptics. The company has created a brand-new way for developers and publishers to monetize their franchises, and it costs the companies nothing to give it a try. Novint is offering publishers like EA a brand new way to promote their products, a new audience in Falcon users that may be hungry for triple-A content, and porting the games to the Falcon as a platform will cost them nothing.

Imagine someone offering you a nice check for something you didn't know you could sell, and you start to see how intriguing this idea had to have seemed for EA. "We're buying the sleeves off their vests," Tom tells me, and I laugh, but it's an apt image. Novint will sell the games through its web site for $29.95, but if you already own the title, you can pay $9.95 for the haptics update.

"We go to a company that owns a game, and we say we want to acquire the 3D touch rights to the game. Sometimes the first reaction we get is 'You want to buy what now?' We're buying something from people they didn't even know they had," Anderson said. "We say we'll pay an upfront fee for the touch rights, so Novint is the one taking all the risk, and we tell them that we'll do the integration with the touch; there is no cost for [them].

That's definitely going in my book of clever strategic plays. I hope it pays off for them.


The NYTimes reports that Alberto Gonzales, former attorney general, is having difficulty finding a job. As they put it:

Alberto R. Gonzales, like many others recently unemployed, has discovered how difficult it can be to find a new job. Mr. Gonzales, the former attorney general, who was forced to resign last year, has been unable to interest law firms in adding his name to their roster, Washington lawyers and his associates said in recent interviews.

He has, through friends, put out inquiries, they said, and has not found any takers. What makes Mr. Gonzales’s case extraordinary is that former attorneys general, the government’s chief lawyer, are typically highly sought.
I think this is a pretty rich opportunity for schadenfreude, as Gonzales represents a lot of things that seem to be wrong with the Bush administration, e.g. cronyism, egregiously partisan behavior, obstruction of justice, etc. Even so, it's not clear to me that this is the type of thing that the NYT should really be reporting on.

One more round of weekend cooking. I made Fuchsia Dunlop's version of dan dan mian, a semi-spicy noodle dish whose contents seem to change drastically from restaurant to restaurant. Wikipedia defines dan dan noodles as

...a classic dish of Chinese Sichuan cuisine. It consists of a spicy ground peanut and sesame sauce over noodles, usually very garlicky, and often served with cold sliced cucumbers.

The same sauce is frequently served over poached chicken (called Bon Bon or Bong Bong Chicken), and on steamed, meat-filled dumplings in another Sichuan dish called Suanla chaoshou.

The name is also used for another dish that eschews ground peanuts.

A variety of English spellings are used. The first word may be either Dan, Dun, or Tan. There may or may not be a hyphen between the first two words. The last word may be Mein, Mian, or Noodles. The name refers to a type of carrying pole (a dan dan) that was used by ambulatory vendors who sold the dish on the streets.

Well, the dish that I made had no peanuts in it. In fact, the recipe didn't call for anything that remotely resembled a peanut. It was mainly ground pork, ya cai (pickled vegetables, a bit on the salty side), various soy sauces, chili oil and a generous amount of ground Sichuan peppercorn. Here's how it came out, just before mixing:

And after mixing:
It came out ok, but as Pudge put it, the flavoring was a little "monochromatic." I'm not sure why she chose to put it in terms of color, but the gist of it was that the flavor was pretty much overpowered by the salt. The numbing flavor of the Sichuan peppercorns had a subtle effect, but that was about it. I'm guessing that next time, a bit of ground peanut or something might make it a little more interesting.

A sweet job

The following graph plots actual earnings (red) versus the forecasts of equity analysts (black).

Wow.  On the whole, these guys are worthless.

It's a sunny day out in New York.  I'm out for a bit.

Link via The Big Picture

Food porn

I got my cook on today. It took me a little longer than expected to get all the ingredients I needed to start rolling out the promised Chinese goods. Part of it was that it apparently takes a week for things to be delivered from Brooklyn to the Upper West side. Part of it was that Western grocery stores in the UWS don't seem to carry ground pork(!). Must be a Jewish thing. And part of it was that I still needed one or two additional ingredients, which required me going all the way down to China town.

Today, all the pieces came together.

The first dish that I made is generally referred to as "Ants climbing up a tree," or ma yi shang shu. It's generally called that because as you pick up the noodles (which are kind of hard to see, due to blurriness), the ground pork tends to stick to the strands, resembling ants climbing up a tree. It was pretty quick and came out with the right balance of meat, noodles, and spice, at least for me. Pudge has no ability to eat spicy food, which is pretty surprising considering her upbringing.

The process was relatively easy, as are most of the recipes that I've seen in the book. What struck me was that the dish actually requires you to reduce chicken stock, which I wouldn't have expected. I always figured that you just have the noodles mixed up with spicy ground pork and you're good. Instead, you add chicken stock to the whole mix at the very end and then reduce it, allowing all of the flavors to mix together.

The other dish that I made was a simple kung pao chicken, or gong bao ji ding. I changed the recipe a bit, because I'm not such a big fan of peanuts in my food. I also reduced the number of chili peppers in the dish, in order to better suit Pudge's palate.

The dish came out pretty well, although probably not as well as the first one. The peppers probably cooked a bit too long and ended up being a bit darker than I would have wanted. I should probably have kept the garlic, ginger and scallions in larger, chunkier pieces. I may have also put in too much corn starch, making the sauce a bit thicker and clumpier than it should have been. Also, the dish's color came out much browner than expected, making it into more of a "chicken in strange brown sauce." Still, it tasted pretty good in the end.

So far, I've made these dishes and a dish of dry-fried string beans with pork (gan bian si ji dou). Regrettably, I didn't take a picture at the time, but they generally look something like this.
Like everything else, the beans came out tasting pretty good. While there's definitely a little fine-tuning to be done for each of the dishes (I'd probably cut the amount of oil and soy sauce by a notch), they have all come out beyond my expectations. If anyone out there is looking for a good set of Chinese recipes, I would definitely recommend Fuchsia Dunlop's book.

Making the rounds

This is a chart from Dani Rodrik's blog that was making the econ blog rounds this week. I think the point that it's trying to make is pretty straightforward, but whether or not you believe it is a different question.In case you can't read it, the x-axis shows the US population, segmented by income percentiles. The y-axis shows the average annual growth rates in real income for the people in those income levels. The line on the top shows the relation under Democratic presidents, the line on the bottom shows the relation under Republic presidents. The data range is from 1948 to 2003.

The clearly depicted story is that under Democratic presidents, not only has real income growth been significantly more equitable across income segments (as might be expected), but it has been higher overall, even for those in the top income brackets.

There are a host of factors that may be at work here. I will let Rodrik explain which factors are relevant:

Bartels [Princeton professor that produced the chart] shows in his book that this difference is not a statistical artifact or a fluke. It is not the result of Democrats coming to power during better economic times, or of Republicans reining in the unsustainable excesses of Democratic administrations they replace. (It turns out that the same pattern prevails even when a Republican president is succeeded by another Republican.) These numbers are real and they are the outcome of partisan differences in policy. So if you are one of those who have bought the story that income distribution is the result of pure market forces and technological changes, with politics playing no role--think again.
There's another chart out there somewhere that shows that strangely enough, avg. real income growth is higher under Republicans during election years. I'll see if I can find it later.

Primary stuff

It's been a busy week for me, so apologies for the radio silene.

I've been pretty good about completely ignoring the primary for a while, particularly as nothing actually seems to be happening. However, it does make for some light reading on a lazy Saturday. Data snippet for today comes courtesy of the NYTimes:

So... racists, unthinking goosesteppers, chauvinists and uninformed idiots tend to dislike Obama. Not to put too fine a point on it.

(Note: this is very different from saying that those that dislike Obama are racists, unthinking goosesteppers, etc.)


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